Nominee's explanation of "queers" remark contradictory, senator says
An Illinois senator isn't accepting a federal judicial nominee's explanation of his use of the term "queers" when he served as a spokesman for Sen. Jesse Helms in 1984. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Claude Allen's sworn testimony two weeks ago to the Senate Judiciary Committee is not consistent with what Allen said 19 years ago about the remark, which has been an issue in his confirmation. "It's not unusual for nominees who come before us to downplay things they've said," Durbin said Thursday in an interview with The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. "But I'm afraid that Mr. Allen's explanation of his use of the word 'queers' was not credible."
Allen's nomination by President Bush to a lifetime seat on the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., could come to a vote Friday. The circuit court hears federal appeals from Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Allen, 43, is a Pennsylvania native who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke Law School. Since 2001, he has been deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. During Helms's 1984 race for Senate in North Carolina, Allen criticized the Democratic opponent, Gov. Jim Hunt, for his connections "with the queers." Allen, a Republican, told the Judiciary Committee under oath two weeks ago that the remark had referred to unusual people and was not meant to put down gay men and lesbians, whom Helms and Allen had criticized throughout that campaign. "I used the word queer, in my mind, I think at the time, in the dictionary, it was described as 'odd, out of the ordinary, unusual,"' Allen said during his confirmation hearing. "I did not use the word as a pejorative. I did not use the word to denigrate any individual or any group." In written testimony to the Judiciary Committee this week, Allen said, "I had no specific individuals or groups in mind" when making the remark.
That characterization contradicts Allen's responses in 1984 to the controversy. He conceded then to several North Carolina newspapers that "queers" was a slang term for gay people, called the remark "an indiscretion," and stood by his criticism of the gay community's support of Hunt. Allen said then that gay men and lesbians supporting Hunt's campaign were "a special-interest group" made up of people "deviating from that which is normal."
"When you're a nominee, the U.S. Senate does not like to see you in the press," spokesman Bill Pierce said. "We always follow that rule. He addressed the question in his testimony, and he stands by it." Durbin, a member of the Judiciary Committee, questioned Allen about the remark at a hearing on October 28 and then asked Allen follow-up questions in writing. "I'm not going to accuse [Allen] of perjury--that's a very serious charge," Durbin said. "But there wasn't a senator on our side who believed his answers on it. I'll certainly raise this issue when his nomination comes before the full